Sudha Devi Nayak
he short list for the Booker containing the six novels culled out from the formidable long list of a dozen novels waited for the final word. It was a mixed bag, with veterans who have featured on earlier short lists and debutantes, men and women, spanning continents.
The six intrepid books collectively push against the borders of convention and challenge our thinking, a testament to the power of literature. Since the place on the top is for only one of them the result is literary merit as concluded by the judges and public perception.
Each contender could have been as good a choice as any other. The tragedy of choice is not among good and bad and indifferent but one where one has to decide among all claimants equally worthy and have stood up to the rigours of good writing.
Geat books underscore the need for being human, compassion for the sins of fellow human beings, not being judgemental, not offering solutions not pointing to any moral, but standing aside offering clemency and love
The Chair of the Booker Judges said the six finalists are miracles of stylistic invention. The language takes centre stage but in all other ways they are remarkably diverse exploring a range of subjects across space and time.
This is a throwback to an earlier Booker event where the Chairman of the Booker said while welcoming writers beyond Britain and the Commonwealth: “We are embracing the freedom of English in all its versatility, its vigour, in its vitality, its glory, wherever it may be. We are abandoning the constraints of geography and national boundaries.”
Each of the six books explores “the anatomy of pain” but there are ‘moments of hope’. These books speak very much to our moment but we believe they will endure.” The honour was claimed by Anna Burns the Irish writer for her novel ‘The Milkman’ set in an unnamed city in Northern Ireland, the coming of age story of a young girl’s affair with an older man.
It is a story of brutality and resistance threaded with mordant humour, and also addresses itself to the present #MeToo Movement.
Definitely, the Booker is an added recognition for genius and effort and has the power to transform a writer’s career with the particular writer’s books flying off the shelves, placing one on the international circuit, setting the cash registers ringing and sales charts buzzing.
Having said that, time is the true arbiter for every work of literature that must defend itself by surviving, otherwise it becomes indefensible. These coveted awards can only be claimed by a handful of fortunate writers whereas there are many immortals who have not made it to the awards list.
While an award is a recognition, writers reach immortality by reaching out to readers across time. Robert Mccrum of ‘The Guardian’ asks what do book prizes have to do with serious literature? There are many forgettable selections, all panels are vulnerable and books are subject to vagaries of taste.
Books live and die in the hearts and minds of readers. Great works of literature are not made by an award nor are they a summing up of their genius but by just having the stuff of greatness.
Great books underscore the need for being human, compassion for the sins of fellow human beings, not being judgemental, not offering solutions not pointing to any moral, but standing aside, offering clemency and love. Shakespeare, Tolstoy, Tagore Chekhov and many others would answer to this quality of greatness.